It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this morning, Mrs Murray. I am glad you enjoyed Tuesday so much that you came back for another round. We will do our best to inform and entertain as we go along.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Department’s position on the clauses. We really need to have another go, don’t we, at trying to understand the landscape for foundation trusts? I have already referred the Committee to the description of foundation trusts when they were first established, as vigorous, autonomous, business-like new organisations that would shake up the NHS and bring choice and competition into healthcare. As we know, there was no evidence that that model did any better than the previous standard trusts, once the high performers had been accounted for.
The Minister’s contention that the clauses do nothing to impinge on a foundation trust’s autonomy is quite the claim. The big change in the clauses is the stripping away of financial autonomy, as set out in clause 52, directly contradicting the many occasions when we have been told that the Bill is all about permissiveness, local decision making and accountability. In clause 55, we also see the Secretary of State giving himself yet more powers.
Clause 52(2) could, in effect, mean there was an indefinite block on foundation trusts using their own capital resources. Will there be any limitations on what is a broad power? I refer to the evidence from Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who touched on that:
“At the moment, we are seeing foundation trusts thinking about their budgets, community providers thinking about theirs, and general practice as well. There is not even collaboration between the community and the hospital. No foundation trust currently has the ability to say, for example, ‘We will go beyond our budget and invest in the community—it may actually reduce our hospital admissions.’ At the moment there is no structure or processes to enable collaboration even within the NHS.”—[Official Report, Health and Care Public Bill Committee,
Dr Nagpaul sets out very well the lack of clarity that we still have about how finances will work at a local level within an ICB, and clause 52 gives foundation trusts even less autonomy in that respect.